I desperately lifted myself onto my tiptoes, craning my head above the bubbling crowd. The fire danced on the people’s skin, the orange glow slipped through the feet of the restless crowd and into the dark night that stretched out into the endless fields. The gentle chattering of the crowd dimmed as the mayor descended from the steps to stand in front of the fire.
“Everyone, please bow in preparation for the entrance of the empress.” His voice rang out through the crowd before being engulfed by the crackling fire.
She emerged from the darkness at the top of the stone steps. Her face, emotionless, expression less, powerful. Her skin was pure white, her lips stained a violent red. Her dark robes crept along the floor, and as she slowly descended her eyes swept along the crowd, daring anyone to confront her. A gentle breeze lifted the the many layers of the robes and blew them closer to the fire, the only one daring to go against her will. She was the empress.
Quickly and quietly as she approached the mayor, I heaved myself up onto the stone wall. A small tuft of moss broke off and fell to the floor as I did so. Her eyes glinted and quickly flitted to me, registering my face forever in her memory. But only for a second. A slight grin threatened to lift the corner of her beautiful mouth, but then she turned slightly to face the rest of the crowd.
“My dear citizens, the time has come again when you have requested aid of my unusual gifts.” Her voice was laded with amusement and pity towards the scruffy townspeople that surrounded her. “And yet again I have answered your prayers”.
A ripple of whispers swept through the crowd as the words sank into their minds. She smiled and the raging fire flickered on her pearl white teeth. This was the first time I had ever seen the Empress and the first I had ever heard of these “unusual gifts”. As if reading my mind, she said
” For those of you who are new, do not fear me, I am at the very least a friend.” The words although said, held little truth.
Gliding toward the fire, she raised her hands. Without warning, she plunged them deep into the embers. A small squeak escaped my throat as I remember the pain I had once experienced when I had fallen over onto a candle. I could not imagine the excruciating pain she must be going through at this very moment. Yet if she felt any pain, she did not show it. The fire licked at her fingers, and as she gently removed her hands, continued to dance upon her fingertips. Her eyes focused entirely upon blaze, as her lips moved rapidly, communicating in a language none but her and the flames could understand.
She slowly tore her eyes from the flames,
“My people, the flames tell me…” She extended her hands above her, the ever burning flames clawing in protest at the night. ” She will lead us out of the darkeness”.
The Empress lowered one hand and pointed one scorched finger directly at me.